3 Dangers Your Child Faces on the Internet and How to Combat Them

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3. Skewed Sense of Reality 

The distortion of reality doesn't begin online for some children and teens. 

De Azevedo Hanks observed that even watching Disney shows with her children where the characters appear happier once they received something material, like a game, can be a misrepresentation of reality. 

This kind of commercial distortion of reality, that you need a game to make you happy, is also found on the internet. But there are other, more subtle distortions children may find as they begin accessing social media and internet sites. 

In a study by Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, college undergrads reported higher self-esteem after looking at their Facebook profile than after looking in a mirror. 

"Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does not match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves," says Cornell communications professor Jeffrey Hancock, Ph.D., one of the study's co-authors.

As with adults, there is a concern that children careful craft pictures on social media sites like Instagram or Facebook to present a different reality that their peers will approve of. 

According to a survey by Statista, about 40 percent of teens feel pressured to post pictures that only show themselves in a good light. 

Despite knowing this, more than 20 percent said they felt worse about their own lives when they saw pictures of their friends on social media. 

This opens up room for negative feelings about body image, something de Azevedo Hanks is also concerned about, and with good reason.

Findings from a study by Common Sense Media showed that children who are exposed to traditional media are more likely to develop negative body image. More than a third of children ages 13 to 17 reported feeling stressed out over how they looked in the pictures they posted and more than 25 percent reported feeling upset when people didn't "like" or share their photos enough. 

This reliance on social media can also create a false sense of connection, de Azevedo Hanks says. 

"It’s like a relationship substitute," she says. "We have those feelings—we have loneliness, sadness, anger, whatever—that propel us to engage in a relationship with people to feel better. Technology can easily be used as a way to avoid dealing with painful emotions. I think that it can be used as a way to numb depression and to reduce anxiety. That’s fine sometimes, but if that’s your only way to feel is to numb out or to distract yourself, that’s an emotional health problem that could get worse."

Combating Harmful Online Material

A study by CyberPsychology and Behavior estimates 90 percent of children in America 10 to 18 years old have access to the internet. With so many harmful, even dangerous things out on the web, de Azevedo Hanks shares a few ways to combat them. 

Predetermined Age Limits

Some social media site like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram require users to be at least 13 years old to use their sites without parental permission.

De Azevedo Hanks says that it is important to set age limits within your family before allowing children to access social media sites. It's also important to communicate why you have age limits for when your children can access social media sites. 

While this may be challenging, it could also be a good opportunity to communicate to your children the importance of staying safe on the internet. 

De Azevedo Hanks says, "That’s a chance to say, ‘You know what, the rule is you need to be 13 minimum, but that’s Instagram’s rule, not our family rule. . .You can come across things on Instagram that are really inappropriate and that I don’t want you to see when you’re so young because it impacts your brain. My job is to protect you, so it’s not that I’m mean or I don’t want you to have friends.'"

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